BEING admitted to a hospital or receiving some of the community-based health services can be stressful, distressing and sometimes frightening for both the patient and their relatives.

Most of us would much rather be in the comfort and familiar surroundings of our own home, but the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust (HAWC) - which runs the community hospitals, most of the mental health services and other community-based services - is trying to relieve the pressure on patients and their loved-ones.

For many years the trust has recruited volunteers to support patients in community hospitals and mental health wards in a number of different ways as family members and friends would do. It currently has 45 volunteers working across the different geographical and service areas the trust covers.

A spokesman for HAWC said: “Although volunteers aren’t involved directly with patient care they do a wide variety of jobs and help provide extra support to patients, just as friends or family members might do.

“They come from all walks of life, and represent the diversity of the communities that the trust serves. All are dedicated to making hospitals and services a little friendlier and more comfortable for everyone.”

The trust is currently looking for more people to volunteers a bit of their time to help some of the patients in their care.

The spokesman added: “The trust is currently looking for volunteers to work on four of its adult mental health wards in Redditch, Kidderminster and Worcester.

“Specifically we would like people with IT skills, admin skills, an interest in gardening or the arts but most importantly volunteers need to have compassion and be able to sit and talk with patients.”

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Alan Sanson case study

Tai chi instructor Alan Sanson, from Bromsgrove, has been volunteering for the trust for the past six years and goes into all the inpatient mental health wards in Worcester, Kidderminster, Redditch and Bromsgrove.

A few years ago Alan’s tai chi teacher thought he would find a mental health first aid course interesting so he went along.

“It was a great course and I kept in touch with the trainer, who was a trainer for the NHS trust. About 18 months later she had been talking to a ward manager at Kidderminster who thought it would be nice to do something totally different and bring a different experience for people while they were in hospital.

“I did a taster session for Kidderminster and it seemed to go well and I now do it once a fortnight at two wards in Worcester, at Kidderminster, Bromsgrove and Redditch and once a month at the other Worcester ward.

“It is totally voluntary and it is independent of the service patients receive in the wards.”

Alan, aged 57, said tai chi is related to qigong, which is about well-being. “It is about movement, flow, softness and well-being. I do it because the people I take are in difficult situations.

“The important thing is if they tell you that doing it makes a difference to them and that it makes them feel good.”

The patients decide if they want to join in and many do. Health professionals also take part sometimes and enjoying the relaxing exercises, said Alan.

He added that the patients don’t always feel like doing tai chi and then he offers to have a chat with them. “It is about engaging them. They might see me once and we might have a chat and they might not see me again.”

Alan finds working with patients in the mental health wards totally absorbing and satisfying. “We are trying in whatever small way we can to help people who are in a really horrible situation. Most people do not want to be there. They want to get out of there and live their lives.

“I am just trying to give people the chance to be themselves,” he said.

Jacqui Seaborn case study

Jacqui Seaborn was working as a part-time home carer in Worcestershire Social Services when she first became a volunteer general ward help at Evesham Community Hospital 13 years ago.

The NHS was staging a recruitment drive for volunteers at the time and Jacqui, now 72 and retired, said she was looking for something to do on her days off work.

“It is really nice to help people who are not in a very fortunate position and it is really varied, which is really nice,” she said.

“We talk to people and we make them cups of tea or hold their hands if they want. I think as volunteers we get as much out of it as we put in. I enjoy meeting different people and the volunteers are making a difference to their lives.”

Jacqui said some of the elderly patients are particularly interesting because of the stories they tell about their lives. She said one of the patients is regularly in and out of the community hospital at Evesham and he describes it as being “just like a second home”.

She said some of the volunteers have specific skills like doing people’s nails or doing crafts with patients. One thing which goes down particularly well with patients is hand massage.

“We have done a course on hand massaging. Hand massage is a very nice thing to do. You are connected to the person but you do not have to talk to them if they don’t want to talk. It is very nice for us to do it and rewarding for them too.”

Jacqui said apart from the enjoyment she gets from helping out at the hospital, the volunteers also socialise a few times each year at a summer afternoon tea party, as well as Christmas and winter get-togethers.

Jacqui’s 14-year-old granddaughter has been going in to the hospital with her since she was seven and her experience is now counting towards her Duke of Edinburgh award.